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In the last years I did a couple of long bike tours. So far, I always had platform pedals with pins on my bike and I've worn "normal" shoes. For my next tour I'm considering clipless pedals. I have only recently started to work with these type of pedals. So far, I suggest that SPD pedals would be the best choice. My concern is that I don't want to take a second pair of shoes with me and that the SPD pedal shoes are not good for walking and being in nature in the evening and morning.

Are there SPD pedal systems with shoes that are practical enough for that? With practical I mean:

  • They are nice to walk
  • They are robust against weather
  • The cleats on the shoe are robust (I'm going to be in areas without a proper bike shop)
  • The pedals are robust too

In general, I'm not sure if it makes sense to use SPD pedals on long bike tour. Is the performance increase worth it? Or is it more clever to use platform pedals with either pins or a strap as they are more fail-proof?

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    ‘Clipless’ is the general if confusing term - meaning no toe straps or clips, ‘SPD’ is also used, it’s the name of Shimano’s system that has become generic – Argenti Apparatus Oct 25 at 11:55
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    If you are concerned you could also get double sided pedals so you can pedal without cleats if you end up really needing to – GageMartin Oct 25 at 12:06
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    SPD sandals for the win – whatsisname Oct 25 at 19:05
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    This is worth a read - pedalchile.com/blog/…. - Studies how submaximal effort provide no benefit in performance. Over 30 seconds you get 10% more power. I dispute the science behind their assertion clips are faster with a proviso "for a trained cyclist operating at maximum output". – mattnz Oct 25 at 20:28
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    @thosphor I want to find out if it makes sense to change. You know, there's always this little feeling that something could be better or be worth trying out ;-) – komape Oct 26 at 9:03

10 Answers 10

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They are nice to walk

Proper fitted MTB shoes with SPD cleats are quite comfortable to walk in, at least for non-marathon distances (say, less than 10 km a day). They are still less ideal when compared to normal walking/running shoes, however, for these reasons: 1. They are stiffer than regular shoes. 2. They have less gripping surface because the metal plates do not grip at all.

For really long tours (weeks) you will want to have an additional pair of comfortable camping shoes, crocs or "slippers" which you put on at the end of the day of cycling.

They are robust against weather

There are even MTB boots with SPD mounts, meant to be used while fatbiking in snow and well into freezing temperatures. You will have to strike a balance though: 100% waterproof things will be extremely hot in any other non-rainy day, and vice versa, breathing shoes will become wet in a thunderstorm.

The cleats on the shoe are robust (I'm going to be in areas without a proper bike shop)

Cleats are not coming with shoes, they are bought separately or with pedals. You can have a pair of spare cleats with you if you are concerned with their reliability. Do not forget to take spare cleat mounting bolts as well: it is more likely to lose a bolt than to break a cleat.

The pedals are robust too

SPD pedals are organized the same way as regular platform pedals, with a couple of extra springs and pieces. They are therefore as robust in their construction as the platform pedals. The locking mechanism can of course fail or become damaged. If you are concerned with such a possibility, pick a pair of SPD pedals with a small platform (compare e.g. Crankbrothers Candy and Eggbeaters; the latter are very minimal, the former ones have platforms), so that you can continue using them even if the spring fails. Alternatively, there are two-sided pedals that can be used as regular platform pedals on one side and as SPD pedal on the other. This way, you'll always be able to continue the journey.

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    I would second this, have slipped on rock while walking 'off-road' in SPD shoes. Depends on the model but mine has open slots with the cleat fitted in its current position, which means stepping on wet grass gets my socks damp fairly quickly. If I really wanted to tour with SPDs I would also pack a very lightweight foldable pair of slip-ons/sandals for any non-riding times. – Wilskt Oct 25 at 16:19
  • Worth mentioning you can get SPD's with a platform that, while no where near as good as proper flats, are usable with normal shoes. – mattnz Oct 25 at 20:20
  • You can also get platforms that mount into SPDs, that will effectively convert them into flat pedals – CSM Oct 25 at 20:56
  • You've answered some concerns about clipless pedals but not really addressed whether they'd be better to take on a long tour than platform pedals. – thosphor Oct 26 at 8:49
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    @thosphor No, I haven't. There are so many separate questions hidden in the original one. Answers to some of them boil down to personal preferences. – Grigory Rechistov Oct 26 at 9:07
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I've been known to wear SPD shoes all day, including a few miles of city walking. I can also run the mile from work to the station in mine. There are plenty of mountain/touring shoes worth a look. My preferred ones are no longer made, but my giro rumble are similar, just a little less comfortable.

I've also worn them around camp but on longer trips would take either flip-flops (also known by many other names) or neoprene water shoes, because I like a dip.

I'd say on a long tour the bigger issue is drying them out if they get wet.

Rather than a performance increase, a well-adjusted set f clipless shoes/pedals keeps your feet in the right place and protects your knees. Badly adjusted (including saddle position) they have the opposite effect. You can get some of the benefit with half clips - strapless toe clips and wear whatever you like. They'd be good for riding if you really want hiking boots with you.

Edit to address one more point. The clips on the pedals are seriously robust. SPDs work caked in mud, and will go thousands of km without maintenance. Mine occasionally (as in maybe twice a year, or after 5000 km, but it might be related more to wet storage) need a few drops of oil if clipping out gets stiff, but that's something you could do before you set off

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    +1 for Giro Rumble. They are by the far most walkable SPD shoes I have tried. – ojs Oct 25 at 21:21
  • The others (@ojs) are specialized cadet. I may never get the mud out of the old pair I wore yesterday, and the rumbles would have had better grip, but specialized are worth a look for touring with sightseeing (even if not much hiking) commuting, casual offices, etc. – Chris H Oct 26 at 6:03
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Feet are not universal and so the answer isn't either.

In particular is the question of hotspots, where concentrated forces on the foot cause discomfort and pain.

Most cyclists will find that the only practical clipless shoes for touring have at least a recessed cleat and typically also will fall on the more walkable, flexible-soled end, as opposed to racier shoes with inflexible soles. Within these constraints, there are some riders who can't get clipless to work for them over long days pedaling regardless of the system they choose.

There are now a number of two-bolt pedals that have some of the broader shoe contact and hotspot avoidance benefits of road pedals, but work with recessed cleats. These are what you should really be looking at if you're buying pedals for touring. The double-sided "trail" type mountain SPDs, PD-M8120 for example, are a commonly encountered example that can work, but the best are the single-sided touring SPDs, like PD-ES600, PD-A600, and PD-A520. (I realize this veers into product recommendation territory; I would recommend looking at this category without naming models if there were more than just a few models to choose from, or more manufacturers than just Shimano doing it.) These sorts of pedals are the main option for attempting to deliver the best of both worlds type setup you want for touring, where you can use a highly walkable shoe but the platform has decent load-spreading ability.

The nature of pedals like this is that fiddling with cleat shims is more likely to be necessary than otherwise, because you're trying to get and keep the engagement and disengagement dialed while also dealing with the broader platform being squashed up against your shoe more than a mountain pedal would be.

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SPD pedal compatible shoes are available in many styles intended for many uses. You should be able to find a pair that works for you. There are shoes that are designed for walking as well as riding and have a recessed cleat.

Get shoes from a quality brand and you will have no problem with robustness of the shoe itself . SPD cleat and pedal are designed for mountain biking are are very reliable.

Many shoes are designed with ventilation and are not waterproof, but you can deal with this with shoe covers.

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I've toured with SPD shoes and pedals, but any time that I'm expecting to do more walking than into my accommodation or a shop for food, I would take normal walking shoes/boots as well.

SPD shoes and pedals are very robust and mine have lasted for years with minimal maintenance.

The problem is with "They are nice to walk". They're not. Even in shoes with a recessed cleat and shoe rubber either side, like the Shimano RT82's that I use, the cleat scrapes noisily on the ground and in some cases compromises grip. I can walk in them, but not quickly or comfortably. Perhaps other designs would be better, but they are going to be less flexible and, if the cleat is not covered, sometimes slippery.

There are some benefits of clip pedals, but any performance increase appears to be negligible.

For those reasons, if you're set on taking only one set of shoes, I would start from the other direction.

Find some decent walking shoes which are comfortable for cycling.

I've noticed that walking boots can result in sweaty feet when cycling or rubbing above the ankles from the repeated flexing. Hiking trainers seem to work quite well for me on the bike, although I am careful to tuck the laces in so that they don't get caught on the chainring.

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  • From all SPD shoes I have had, the RT82 was second worst to walk in. The design really matters. – ojs Oct 26 at 11:59
  • This has been pretty much exactly my experience also; on long tours they will suffice but something extra is a plus, especially if you need footwear for something other than casual walking like a hike for instance. – UuDdLrLrSs Oct 27 at 19:27
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I toured 3000 miles in clipless pedals (not SPDs per se, but using the SPD-compatible shoes), and commuted with SPDs, and currently train with them. Some observations:

  • Shimano-branded SPD pedals are high-quality pedals. I wouldn't worry about them breaking down more than any other pedal.
  • Some SPD-compatible shoes have relatively walking-friendly soles, some do not. It comes down to how flexible the sole is. I've walked about 3 miles at a stretch in a pair of "walking-friendly" SPDs. They're not awful for that, but they're not foot-pillows either.
  • Rigid soles are a benefit if you are putting in long miles every day, as they spread the pressure over more foot area and reduce the chance of hotfoot. Obviously the shoes need to fit well.
  • When touring, I carried a pair of very light running shoes. Even on flat pedals, these would have been inappropriate for riding. I was packing light, but these were worth having.
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  • This answer reflects my experiences too. No problem walking in Shimano shoes with SPD cleats, although on some surfaces like rounded cobblestones, they do make a click-click-click as you walk. These days I would take SPD-cleat shoes, and maybe a pair of the really-light crocks knockoffs. – Kingsley Oct 28 at 0:54
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I use MTB clipless shoes for long tours, and would generally recommend it – but also to take other shoes as well, which means it may end up being more sensible to just keep using those only and on flat pedals. But it depends on both you the rider and the terrain of the tour.

This summer I did my first long tour here in Norway, and didn't manage to pedal all the hills with my baggage. So I pushed quite a bit instead, and, using the bike shoes (Giro Terraduro), this gave me blisters. For climbing over rocks they're even worse – on rounded surfaces, the cleats keep touching down and slipping. (I did have a pair with sandals with me also, but next time on a similar tour I'd rather opt for light running shoes.)

On the other hand, when it comes to the pedalling alone I personally wouldn't want to go without the clips – though I use flat pedals for most of my shorter MTB excursions, pedalling on them for longer time with a backpack tends to give me back pains.
Still – generally speaking, in my opinion flat pedals are ok; at least with the sticky MTB ones the power transmission is hardly worse than with clips. (Importantly, they do allow you to use the hamstrings, unlike slippy plastic pedals.) Only for sprints and when going fast over rough terrain (rock gardens, big roots) do clips give significantly better performance, but that's hardly relevant on a tour.

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    You're clearly better on the mtb than me - I don't usually use them on the trails and don't like them when it gets techne, but fitted them for yesterday's mixed surface century. Where I really felt the benefit was the gravel sections, especially the loose gravel that's perhaps more likely touring – Chris H Oct 26 at 6:06
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    @ChrisH I doubt I'm “better on MTB” – I'm actually quite a wimp and, on natural trails, often step off and walk difficult sections, thus my choice to use flat pedals on those shorter rides. (In addition to the fact that on the trails around here I often need to carry the bike up, which I really don't want to do with cleats.) But yeah, clips are quite a boon for fast, yet rough terrain, so I do use them also in bike parks even when there's no need to pedal. The less suspension the bike has, the bigger the advantage. – leftaroundabout Oct 26 at 10:17
  • A longer tour with a backpack? Bikes have options to put the luggage on the frame, much better for your body. – Willeke Oct 26 at 18:29
  • @Willeke yeah, but there's only so much you can fit in the frame and I don't like panniers. I did want to get rid of the backpack this year, but my self-built rear rack didn't end up looking quite sturdy enough that I'd dare loading it to the limit. — Perhaps I'm just crazy, to lorry ≈30 kg of stuff through the mountains... – leftaroundabout Oct 26 at 19:47
  • I live in a country where almost everybody carries someone on back of their bike at one time or an other, some often. And those others are always over 30 kg. (We do have sturdy racks as a rule.) A bike without a proper rack does seem unfinished. – Willeke Oct 26 at 19:50
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Downhill and freeride MTB gear will be your best bet. They are more casual than XC style shoes and FAR better than road shoes in this context.

Shoes:

  • Downhill shoes usually have recessed cleat mounting holes.
  • DH shoes have soles that are flexible enough to be comfortable walking all day, while stiff enough to provide a decent amount of support while pedaling. I used to ride MTB with flat pedals and running shoes, and I was always fighting the soft foam soles. You will want at least some level of foot support.
  • They will be designed to give plenty of off-bike grip. Some have tread similar to that of a hiking boot, which allows MTB riders to build jumps and then ride them immediately afterwards. For you, that will give you much better off-bike walking grip.
  • You can get DH shoes with waterproof membranes. This way, you get some level of water resistance without wearing a full on winter boot.
  • The construction is usually quite heavy-duty, and they don’t look as flashy/unusual compared to more race-inspired shoes.

Pedals:

  • DH clipless pedals have both a clip mechanism and pins on both sides. This way, you can easily ride clipped in, and it will at least be pleasant riding with normal shoes as well. The large contact area also helps mitigate the lack of support you get with a semi-flexible DH shoe sole.
  • They’re often built in a more robust way to cope with extreme MTB use.

That said, the fit of the shoe is also very important. If the shoes aren’t right for your feet, you will get pain and hot spots. Make sure to take your new shoes out for a few rides to break them in and make sure they’re the right fit for you before embarking on the big trip.

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I wouldn’t recommend it. The main advantage of bicycling specific shoes is the stiff sole. The cleats which make sure you can’t slip off the pedal are just an additional benefit.

The stiff sole will make walking uncomfortable and the metal cleats are extremely slippery on hard surfaces like cobblestones or stone stairs.

For short distances (like a kilometer or so) you might be okay with softer bicycling shoes. Personally I always brought a second, lightweight pair of shoes (Merrel Vapor Glove, 320g for the full pair and pack down very small) or went barefoot.

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The purpose of clipping one's shoes to the pedal is not to prevent a foot from slipping off the pedal. The purpose is to increase the range of power transmission from one's leg to the cranks.
If you lack toeclips/straps or clipless pedals/shoes, you can only stand on the pedal and apply force for, say 90 degrees of each leg's travel. With your foot attached to the pedal you can increase that to some 300 degrees. On each leg. You can pull up on your rear leg and supplement the force you're applying on the fore pedal.
In fact you can apply more force to the cranks than what you weigh. By a lot. It vastly increases your power. Watch a couple of sprinters accelerate on the track. Cycling shoes have as stiff a sole as possible. My Adidas are completely inflexible. This prevents sore arches. In addition, power transmission isn't wasted in flexing and warming up the sole.
If you're a tourist, carry a pair of walking shoes to put on when you get there. My toeclip/strap shoes, with compulsory cleats, are simply not walkable. Besides, I'd stuff a pebble into the slot and have to pry it out. Modern SPD and their ilk force their adherents to go clipless while not riding in their cycling shoes. That's one of the reasons that those useless platform pedals are so prevalent these days. Toeclips and straps let you use runners for junk riding. And, have the benefits of the clips and straps. Buy a second pair of pedals. One outfitted with SPD and the other with toeclips/straps. Change your pedals to suite the type of riding you're currently engaged in.

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    The increase of maximum power is secondary to most casual riders or tourers in my opinion. The slip prevention is actually very important. – Vladimir F Oct 26 at 7:25
  • Normal riding down the road affords little chance that one's feet will slip off any pedal. Hitting a pothole severely enough to remove one's foot from the pedal would likely dump you off your bike anyway. And, leave your nether parts in rough shape. – user16928 Nov 5 at 23:31

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